Peter Fischli and David Weiss

In this exhibition, the Swiss artist team of Peter Fischli and David Weiss developed the theme of anonymity—a theme that has always been central to their work. An enormous number of photographs, divided into thematic groups, were hung along the gallery walls. For example, there were the images of Rio and Sydney, as well as those of anonymous suburbs; horror images such as skulls and mummies; views of snow-clad mountains; the sublime kitsch of “Holiday-on-Ice” spectacles; the presumed exoticism of holidays in Africa or in the Orient; typical Swiss scenes; and the mythical stones of Stonehenge. These photographs have no particular technique, no added “artistic quality”; it is as if they had been chosen by an average person, drawn to the colors of nature and to the banality of the image. This is precisely where irony sets in—with the triumph of mediocrity, which knows neither country nor border, with this average glance, which is left to capture and to be fascinated by all things of the world. It has the power to offer approval to everything, and to classify the visual in reassuring and preordained schemes. The presumed virginity of the glance is thus transformed into something artificial because the images don’t strike us through the force of their visual impact, but by virtue of their adhesion to precise cultural standards. Placing these photographs into an art context changes their meaning, adjusting it to a dimension of truth as illusion, of ambiguity achieved through excess of literal clarity. The same attitude is found in Sound and Light, 1990, a spectacle created with the sparest of means in a plastic glass that rotates around a normal, lighted flashlight.

Literalness also permeates their cast-rubber sculptures: a vase of flowers, a large wardrobe, bricks supporting a shelf—objects completely shorn of their usual reference to function. The rubber is black, shiny with opaque streaks; this uniform color—in addition to emphasizing the anonymity of artistic gesture—serves to make the forms more imposing, like mute presences that rise up silently in the space of the gallery as if no one had brought them there. The sense of alienation is total because pure image, that which transpires through vision and not through the other senses, is drawn from these everyday objects. The viewer feels struck by a slight sense of vertigo that originates in the shifting of meaning, a silent vertigo that is insinuated between the form and the material, forcing a fissure between the two in such a way that they might never again be reassembled. Like the photographic images, which have no meaning outside the cultural code, the objects also are transformed into a sign of themselves.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.